Kudankulam plant set to miss deadline again

N-plant unlikely to start functioning by April-end — as promised by PM

Written by Amitabh Sinha | New Delhi | Published:April 19, 2013 1:00 am

In all likelihood,India will not be able to honour Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s promise to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the operationalisation of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. Top officials in the atomic energy establishment have told The Indian Express that the first unit of this power station is unlikely to go ‘critical’ by the end of the month,the last major stage before it becomes operational.

There can be a gap of several days between the time when the reactor achieves the ‘critical’ stage,during which the nuclear chain reaction is initiated,and when it becomes operational and starts producing electricity.

“I am pleased to inform the President (Putin) that Kudankulam unit-1 will be operational next month,” Manmohan Singh had said on March 28 in Durban where both he and Putin had gone to attend the BRICS summit.

This deadline,just like so many of the earlier target dates,is likely to be missed. No one in the atomic energy set-up is willing to say exactly when the Russian-built reactor will start functioning. But indications are that this will not happen by the end of this month.

R K Sinha,Secretary in the Department of Atomic Energy,said the clearance from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) for going ‘critical’ was still to come.

“NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited,which will run the reactors) has approached the AERB to seek clearance for the reactor to go critical. A special committee of the AERB,camping at the site,held a meeting last Friday and suggested some calibration tests,” Sinha said. “All that I can say is that we are quite close now. We are practically there,barring any new surprising development.”

S S Bajaj,chairman of AERB,said the clearance for going ‘critical’ might be given soon,but added that it would be “difficult to predict” exactly when. “AERB is following up on all the tests being conducted by NPCIL. Our job is to ensure that all the tests are in line with internationally acceptable standards. I would say,it (the nod) is a matter of weeks now.”

Station director of Kudankulam power station,R S Sunder,said he was hoping that the ‘critical’ stage would be achieved by early next month. The NPCIL website clearly says that the expected date for the reactor to begin commercial operation is May 2013.

The 1000-MW reactor,the biggest being built in India,was originally scheduled to become functional by the end of 2011. But protests at the site had forced complete stoppage of all work for more than four months. Thereafter,the delay has been attributed mainly to the cautious approach of the regulatory authority,AERB,which has been asking for additional safety tests,sometimes even ordering a repeat of those tests. The caution is said to be on account of not just the protests but also because the safety of nuclear power plants have come under higher scrutiny after the Fukushima incident in Japan in February 2011.

In between,some design changes were also made to make safety features stronger. For this,some equipment had to be ordered from Russia.

FALSE STARTS

March 28,2013

I am pleased to inform the President that Kudankulam Unit 1 will be operational very next month.

— PM to Putin in Durban

December 24,2012

Construction of Unit 1 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project is now complete,and power generation will commence shortly.

— PM in statement at the joint press conference with Putin

August 24,2012

Unit-1 of Kudankulam nuclear power project is at an advanced stage of commissioning. Permission for initial fuel loading and first approach to criticality was accorded by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board on August 10.

— V Narayansamy,MoS in PMO,in a statement in Rajya Sabha

April 23,2012

The first reactor of 1000 MW will be operational within 40 days from today.

— Narayanasamy to reporters in New Delhi

December 16,2011

I am confident that in a couple of weeks we should be able to go ahead with operationalising Kudankulam 1 and six months thereafter,Kudankulam 2

— PM at a press conference in Moscow

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